In July 2003 the FDA’s Consumer Health Information for Better Nutrition Initiative announced, as its central focus, the twin goals of making available better, easily understood, up-to-date scientific information about how dietary choices can affect health, as well as encouraging companies to compete based on health and nutrition consequences, in addition to such non-health-related features of products like taste and ease of preparation. According to the press release (which I helped to draft), “A better-informed public — aided by science-based health information — would be able to choose foods that are more nutritious, potentially addressing such urgent public health problems as the rise in obesity and overweight.”
But that was way back in 2003. Today the FDA turned down a request by General Mills to label cereal, bread and other products as a “good source” or “excellent source” of whole grains. Noting that the government’s new dietary guidelines do say that consumers can benefit from increased consumption of whole grains, the FDA said it wants to further consider what the term “whole grain” should include.
In a lengthy petition filed in May 2004 General Mills asked the FDA to define what it means for a product to be described as “made with” whole grain or an “excellent source” of whole grain or a “good source” of whole grain. It suggested that the FDA use the amount of fiber in a product to determine if it is, indeed, a good source of whole grain. The FDA, in its recent letter, refused.
But the agency has permitted the food makers to declare on the label that eating whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, if the foods contain more than 51% of whole grain and the required amount of fiber. Food companies also can make statements, such as “10 grams of whole grains” and “100% whole grain oatmeal.”
The FDA must not be pulled, spiraling downwards, by the dangerous gravitational pull of the Precautionary Principle. Rather than being seen as Dr. No, FDA should step up to the plate (so to speak) and do the right thing — promote good health. And whole grains is a no-brainer.